By Dennis Voss
In years past, acoustic treatments were all about form and function. But new materials are changing the way the wall and ceiling industry can use acoustic treatments as part of the aesthetics of a space, and the sky is the limit. Recycled acoustical polyester boards are revolutionizing the way designers approach a project, and the results are stunning.
Recycled polyester boards are made from the most easily recyclable form of plastic—polyethylene terephthalate. Manufactured with post-consumer waste from recycled PET bottles and free of formaldehyde, polyester acoustical panels have grown in use in recent years.
PET is a core product that is versatile and easy to work with. While fiberglass acoustical products use additional materials such as fabric or paint, PET is simply one core product—ready to use.
How the material is imagined, designed, cut, and installed is where the “magic” happens. Because the material is so versatile, the real leaders in the use of this material are those companies who can showcase and help create new uses and applications of PET, both from artistic and acoustical standpoints.
Most companies offer several thicknesses in recycled polyester board, generally in 1/2 and 1 inch thickness. Half-inch-thick polyester panels have a sound absorptive value of .95 NRC, when used as baffles. Thicker recycled polyester board, often available in both 1 and 2 inch thicknesses, offers a sound absorptive value starting at .70 NRC. Like other acoustical products, the thicker the product, the better the sound absorption.
All products are customizable, in sizes and shapes up to 8 feet by 4 feet and 9 feet by 4 feet, and can be used separately or together. Polyester panels are offered in multiple color options along with white. Fabric wrapping, custom printing, felt and paint give thicker recycled polyester board the design flexibility desired by the A&D community.
All polyester panels are lightweight, easy to install, and can be cut in the field if adjustments are needed. Polyester acoustical panels are superior when it comes to printing, painting and cutting. The polyester surface takes in the paint or ink very well to deliver a vibrant, colorful look that is long-lasting. When cut into a variety of shapes, the panels provide an extremely clean edge. Advantages such as design flexibility, durability, impact resistant, low maintenance, lightweight, excellent paint absorption, no fading, and ease of installation are increasingly making polyester acoustical panels the top choice by designers.
Also, polyester acoustical panels are Class A Fire Rated per ASTM E84, as well as mold and fungal resistant per ASTM C1338. They can be cleaned with a 10:1 bleachable solution and recycled at the end of their useful life. Designers love how eco-friendly polyester panels are, which is another reason why they have been used in a variety of projects.
When specifying an acoustical product for a gym or other high impact area, polyester panels should be considered. Polyester panels absorb the impact and still look like new after numerous ball bounces.
“Recycled polyester panels are used differently than traditional acoustical products,” explains Kyle Larson, chief sales officer, Golden Valley Supply, a distributor of acoustical products. “They provide an aesthetic appeal with endless design capabilities, both ‘art’ and ‘acoustic’ in one product, so you get double the bang for your buck.”
New recycled polyester panels bring many design opportunities to the table for acoustical products and are becoming more widely accepted; however, traditional fiberglass boards are still the mainstream of the business. Traditional fiberglass boards are cost-friendly and offer good NRC ratings.
Recycled polyester panels are easy to install. When installing recycled polyester panels, hardware can be screwed into any part of the polyester panel. It is also very light and durable so it does not need as much hardware.
The acoustical ceiling tile and grid system was developed mid-century, and the tiles have remained white or off-white with little to no pattern since it was introduced. Other than ceiling tiles, carpet and paint were remotely considered acoustic treatments.
Baffles were introduced within the past 20 years. They are a cost-effective method for reducing noise and controlling reverberation in large, open spaces. Other acoustical products introduced in recent years include banners, clouds or floats, as well as flat, cut-out, and 3-D acoustical wall panels and partitions.
Now acoustic products are getting the attention they deserve and are no longer an afterthought. Acoustical treatments are just as important as décor and aesthetics. In some instances, the acoustic panels provide the décor while controlling sound.
Acoustic treatments have evolved from simply serving a purpose, to being incorporated into a space’s overall design. In the past, manufacturers of acoustical products could print a design on fabric, then wrap it around a basic geometric or simple custom shape. Now, artwork is created out of the actual polyester board and can be more creative in design, from a three-dimensional wall effect to intricate hanging pieces. Acoustical products are moving beyond functionality. Currently, they are being used as art, advertising images and decoration.
While there has been innovation and improvement in the acoustical product industry over the past two decades, product options have grown almost exponentially in the last two to three years.
There are so many more options with acoustical panels now. Some are designed to fit specific needs, such as placement in a high humidity area of a rec center or indoor pool, or as wall treatments and partitions in commercial and hospitality areas for both privacy and noise reduction. Acoustic panels used in classrooms and open areas like school libraries reduce exterior noise, buffer internal sound, and most importantly, create an atmosphere where teachers are heard clearly and students are more focused and engaged. All of these applications can be done artfully and unobtrusively with the variety of acoustical treatment solutions available today.
When it comes to the type of acoustical material used, companies have seen more growth of recycled polyester boards. Versatility is a major factor, as well as the quick design turnaround that a single core product allows.
Since more architects and designers are interested in using eco-friendly acoustical treatments, manufacturers and suppliers are able to provide LEED documentation for all of their recycled and recyclable products.
“We have data for LEED on some of our products, but we have seen a decline recently in LEED certification because of cost,” says Herb Golterman, president of Golterman & Sabo, the parent company of G&S Acoustics and G&S Architectural Products. “If the new federal administration starts making ‘green’ a priority, and give more tax credits, that could change.”
The aCapella product was chosen for this project for several reasons,” says Interior Designer Andrea Giovando. “It has a wonderful ability to customize. The colors are rich and saturated, and, most importantly, it came in on budget.”
The pandemic of 2020 has changed so much in how people live, work and interact. It has impacted the workplace, schools, healthcare facilities, shopping, entertainment, restaurants; every aspect of daily life. The pandemic has impacted the products we use daily, as well as the building products around us.
Acoustical treatment solutions are no exception, and that’s why recycled polyester boards can play an important role in the redesign of workspaces, schools, healthcare facilities, hospitality venues, and so on. Recycled polyester boards are made of one core product that can easily be cleaned with a simple 10:1 bleach solution without damage to its finish.
Due to the widespread threat of the COVID virus, people will continue to work remotely from their homes well into 2021. But, at some point, there will be a return to work and the A&D community is preparing for that with reconfigured workspaces and common areas that can help reduce the spread of the virus while providing acoustical solutions. Recycled polyester boards fill that purpose with style.
Larson of Golden Valley Supply endorses using recycled polyester panels, commenting that because “Polyester can be cleaned with a bleach solution, and some product manufacturers are focusing on anti-viral product lines. I see growth potential in this arena.”
With the introduction of new products, such as recycled polyester boards and innovations that have occurred with acoustical treatment products in general, it helps to keep the A&D community informed. Continuing education through webinars and online education credit classes are more important now than ever, especially because of the pandemic. With many businesses still working from home in 2021, industry professionals may have more time to become better informed about acoustical treatment options.
As it is, architects and designers have thousands of decisions to make when designing a space, so any expertise or advice an acoustical expert can offer is both helpful and welcomed. Companies like G&S Acoustics and Golden Valley Supply are happy to explain the importance of acoustics and how different materials can dampen sound, as well as help builders and interior designers understand how building materials interact with other materials to improve basics like sound and aesthetics.
Recycled polyester boards are trending now and with good reason—they artfully blend form with function. With the design flexibility they provide and the burgeoning awareness of how acoustical treatments are an essential part of a space, use of recycled polyester boards are here to stay.
Larson notes that Golden Valley Supply customers love the polyester acoustical products. These products offer form and function together in one product with a high design aspect.
“We see segments of office space being reconfigured for when people begin returning to work,” says Larson. “Our clients are looking at new office configurations, allowing for staff members to come back safely. Acoustical treatment solutions, like those made of recycled polyester board, can be an innovative and effective method to make open spaces quieter and more private with acoustical walls and partitions, as well as products that are hung from the ceiling. Recycled polyester material can allow for physical distancing while providing the client acoustics, aesthetic and creativity within the workspace.”
Plastic has been around since the early 1900s but it wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s that plastic had been used so much that it created a pollution problem. Plastics are everywhere in some shape and form, used in many different products for many different applications. Naturally, the next step was to determine what to do with all the discarded plastic, and one recent solution has been to convert it into recycled polyester boards.
There are seven types of plastic, with PET listed as “1” on recyclable scale because it is most easily recycled. Strong and lightweight, when PET is used for fibers and fabrics it is known as Polyester; when used for bottles, containers, and packaging applications, it is referred to as PET resin.